My family has been flexible on Thanksgiving traditions for the past few years--the gatherings move from state to state, and sometimes I make chili instead of turkey, for instance. So when I dragged everyone to Churchill Downs on Black Friday to eat and watch races from Millionaire's Row, the departure from football watching, Black Friday sales, and/or tryptophan comas was neither unexpected nor resisted.
I'm a journalist in the horse industry, so most of my Churchill experiences have been on Derby or Breeder's Cup days. I didn't expect the food, racing, or atmosphere to impress me on Black Friday, but quite honestly this was one of the most enjoyable days at Churchill I've spent. The crowds were small, the servers offered very personal attention (I'm gluten-free, so they made me an enormous and scrumptious fruit plate dessert), and one could get from paddock to betting window to rail in minutes--an unheard-of feat on bigger race days. Alternately, you could go from table to balcony to watch the races.
Early nightfall meant a stunning Bluegrass sunset and then racing under lights, which is a relatively new direction Churchill has taken with its schedule. (Meets are in the spring and fall--the fall meet begins the last Sunday of October.)
If you go, make sure you sip some bourbon, and if a hot brown is on the menu, try that, too. Often described as a "heart attack on a plate," it's a cheesy, bacon-and-ham topped open-faced sandwich tradition. (Try it once. I won't tell.)